Tag Archives: disinformation

The Guardian’s Anti-Russian Vax Propaganda plunges to New Depths

What a f****ing disgrace! I did develop a bit of a potty mouth while in the army, but I generally refrain from bad language on this blog. But there are times when it just spontaneously spews out in disgust at the sheer utter revolting vileness of the British press.

I know. It’s always been bad. But one could distinguish between the likes of The Sun and The Mirror on the one hand, and the more serious ‘broadsheet’ press on the other, treating the former not so as newspapers but as a type of entertainment while expecting some degree of seriousness from the latter. Alas, those days are long gone, especially when it comes to all things Russian. Instead of honest reporting, what we get from too much of the British press is a torrent of extreme Russophobic propaganda masquerading as news. It is truly a f***ing disgrace.

What brought on this rant? The answer is an article in today’s copy of The Guardian about Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. Even by the rotten standards of The Guardian it plummets the depths of propagandistic nastiness, serving no purpose other than to incite hatred of Russia, while doing its darndest to undermine worldwide efforts to get us out of the covid pandemic. We’ve seen many (invalid) complaints about Russia spreading anti-vax propaganda. Well, here here we British anti-vax propaganda of the basest kind. It kind of makes you want to vomit.

The gist of the article is summed up in the headline and subtitle: ‘Is Russia’s Covid vaccine anything more than a political weapon? Observers say the Sputnik V jab is aimed more at sowing political division than fighting coronavirus.’

WTF? I mean, really. WTF? Russian researchers really went to all the effort of developing a coronavirus vaccine so that they could ‘sow political division’ in the West? Listen to yourself speaking, man. Are you serious?

Unfortunately, author Jon Henley is, and embarks on a long explanation of just how vile the Russians are for having developed a solution to a worldwide plague.

To do this, Henley resorts to one of the techniques for writing bad articles I mentioned in a recent post – namely, citing a bunch of people who agree with the narrative he’s trying to spread, while ignoring any other voices or alternative explanations. It’s a hatchet job, pure and simple, designed to discredit both Sputnik V and the Russian Federation.

The article, in other words, is just one Russophobic comment piled up on another – Bam, bam, bam. Take that, Sputnik V! What it isn’t is fair and balanced reporting.

So it is that Henley starts us off with a statement that

Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine has yet to win EU regulatory approval and is likely to play little part in the bloc’s rollout, but it has already achieved what some observers say is one of its objectives – sowing division among, and within, member states. “Sputnik V has become a tool of soft power for Russia,” said Michal Baranowski, a fellow with a US thinktank, the German Marshall Fund of the United States. “It’s planted its flag on the vaccine and the political goal of its strategy is to divide the west.”

Baranowski’s evidence for this claim? He doesn’t provide any. Of course, he doesn’t. It doesn’t exist. Has anybody associated with the Russian government or the Sputnik vaccine ever stated such an objective? No. Baranowski’s accusation is entirely speculation on his behalf.

But Henley thinks that there is some evidence, and so brings out his second quote, this time from an EU official:

“Russia’s low vaccination rate just doesn’t tally with it having a supposedly cheap, easy-to-make and effective vaccine,” one EU diplomat said. “Either Moscow’s being altruistic, which seems unlikely. Or it’s prioritising geopolitics over Russians’ needs.”

This is just BS. Total utter BS. Putting aside the idea that Russians are incapable of altruism, if Henley spent even a micro-second checking, he’d discover that a) Russia does have a ‘cheap, easy-to-make and effective vaccine’, and b) the reason for the low vaccination rate in Russia is not that Russia is ‘prioritising geopolitics over Russians’ needs’, by for instance sending vaccines abroad while not distributing them at home, but a reluctance by Russians to take the vaccine. In Moscow, for instance, the vaccine is freely available for all, and has been for some time, but only about 10% of the city has bothered getting a shot. You can walk into the GUM shopping mall any time you like and get the vaccine. I’ve read that the line-ups are minimal. People just aren’t doing it.

That means that there are some genuine criticisms that can make of the Russian government’s handling of the covid crisis. It has done a very poor PR job persuading its population of the merits of getting vaccinated. But the accusation that it is favouring geopolitics over its own people’s needs is just plain false.

Henley, however, ploughs on regardless, wheeling out his third rent-a-quote, the Prime Minister of Lithuania, telling us that:

The prime minister of Lithuania, Ingrida Šimonytė, tweeted in February that Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, saw the shot not so much as a “cure for the Russian people” as “another hybrid weapon to divide and rule.”

Well, if the Prime Minister of Lithuania says it, it must be true. Right?

To make sure we’re on ball, Henley next casts some doubt on the efficacy of Sputnik-V, though deigning to cite Russian health officials rebutting such doubts. But whether Sputnik works well or not isn’t really Henley’s topic. It could be 100% effective but still a bad thing, he implies, because it’s ‘dividing’ Europe (which is obviously more important than health issues – I find the callousness of the approach at this point rather startling). Thus the article tells us:

Whether or not the EMA –[European Medical Agency] approves Sputnik V and whether or not it ever arrives in sufficient numbers, observers argue it has already done significant damage, with EU national and regional leaders leveraging it for their own political ends. In some countries, it has caused mayhem: the Slovakian prime minister, Igor Matovič, was forced to resign this month amid a bitter dispute over a secret deal to buy 2m doses despite the disagreement of many in his four-party coalition. … Sputnik has also cost the health and foreign ministers of the Czech Republic – both opposed to the shot’s deployment without EMA approval – their jobs, fired by the prime minister, Andrej Babiš …  In Germany … three states including Bavaria have either struck or are negotiating Sputnik deals.

Obviously, Moscow somehow planned this all along! As if. And in any case, so what? Everyone and his dog is saying that EU’s vaccine program has been a mess. If states seek to go around it and vaccinate their people by getting Sputnik-V, isn’t that a good thing? But no, not for Mr Henley, who returns to his original source, writing that:

For Baranowski, Sputnik’s rushed approval, online propaganda and carefully selected destinations add up to a Russian strategy that is “neither innocent nor humanitarian. It is part of exactly the same game, of dividing the west, that we see in Moscow’s use of military power, cybersecurity, energy security.”

And it’s working, he said: “It’s dividing various European actors pretty well. Until Sputnik V has EMA approval – at which stage, of course, there’s no problem: the world needs vaccines – it’s become a political litmus test for whether you are for or against the EU’s programme. That’s eroding confidence. And that’s what Putin wants.”

 Ah, yes. ‘That’s what Putin wants’. Which is odd, because he’s never said so, nor given any indication that that’s what he’s thinking. But it seems as if Mr Baranowski has a means of getting inside Putin’s head. One of those Russian ‘directed energy weapons’ redesigned for a new purpose, maybe?

This isn’t serious reporting. It’s just an unsubstantiated thesis, with the author making up for the lack of concrete evidence by throwing in a bunch of quotes from hostile witnesses. It’s hateful. Insofar as it increase vaccine scepticism and may hinder the use of what appears to be a very successful medical product, it is also harmful. By publishing this, The Guardian has plunged so deep, it’s gone even beyond the lower depths. Shame on you, Guardian. Shame.

Shock Revelation: Putin wants stability in the USA

Remember the claims that Vladimir Putin and the Russian government had a role in inciting the mob that broke into the Capitol building in Washington DC back in January? I wrote about this in an article a few weeks ago. No sooner had the dust settled than social media was abuzz with statements that Putin either arranged the whole thing or at the very least was celebrating what had happened. As former Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes put it, “This is the day that Vladimir Putin has waited for since he had to leave East Germany as a young KGB officer at the end of the Cold War.”

The idea that Putin and the Russian state want nothing more than to see Western democracies collapse into chaos is now so widespread as to be pretty much an uncontestable truth. Everybody knows that it is so. Russian “disinformation”, election “meddling”, and all of the rest of it, are put down to Putin’s enormous fear of democracy and of the West, and his concomitant desire to undermine both.

If you have any doubts, just Google “Putin, undermine democracy.” I did, and this is what I got:

Continue reading Shock Revelation: Putin wants stability in the USA

WAtching the Disinformation Watchers

The Roman poet Juvenal was a curmudgeonly old sod. Rome was going to the dogs, he thought. Things were better in the good old days, when men were men, people had a sense of duty, and there was an all round understanding of the importance of public morality. Foreigners, women, homosexuals – you mention it, Juvenal disliked it (one has to wonder if it’s still permissible to get students to read him nowadays). He also wasn’t too fond of soldiers, and in his final (incomplete) satire complained that it was impossible to get redress against them. ‘Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?’ (‘Who guards the guardians themselves?’) he asked, and never has a more pertinent question be posed.

As I’ve mentioned before, the fight against alleged Russian disinformation, electoral ‘meddling’, and so on, has led to the creation of a large and well-funded disinformation industry devoted to controlling what the rest of us can read and hear, in accordance with the industry’s own understanding of reality. Canada, where I live, now has its own branch of the industry in the form of an organization called Disinfowatch, which is reported to be funded by the Ottawa-based Macdonald-Laurier Institute and the US government.

So, who watches Disinfowatch?

Continue reading WAtching the Disinformation Watchers

On Weaponizing cats and vaccines

It’s Christmas time, so it must be silly season.

Several years ago, the Moon in Alabama blog produced a long list of things that Russia and Vladimir Putin have been said to have ‘weaponized’. There are too many to mention them all, but they include such things as immigrants, robotic cockroaches, the weather, Photoshop, and language. A later updated list added items such as humour, incompetence, and giant squids. Today, we can now introduce a new member to the weaponized family: cats.

Yes, it wouldn’t be the internet without cats. Russian president Vladimir Putin no doubt likes them ‘white and fluffy‘.

‘White and fluffy’

Anyway, it turns out that cats are Russia’s latest weapon in the war for international hearts and minds. According to Michael Cole, author of an article entitled ‘December in Russia: A Special Breed of Disinformation’, the Russians have discovered that it’s ‘important to craft a likeable, if not loveable, image of yourself that people who find all that political talk rather mundane can get on board with.’ And so they’ve turned to cats.

Cole’s evidence: Russians building the bridge linking Crimea to mainland Russia adopted a cat they called ‘Mostik’ as their mascot. As Cole says:

Whether it’s meeting up with the Crimean baseball team, celebrating the New Year or hanging out with his old friends on the building site, Mostik is certainly a much cuter and cuddlier face of illegal annexation than the one we’re used to reading about on Western news sites. These days he’s rarely photographed without a trusty press pass around his neck, helping him to get all the latest inside scoops on the kind of feel-good stories that distract from some of the harsher realities of life on the occupied peninsula. No wonder Vladimir Putin was happy to let Mostik cross the completed bridge ahead of him on the day of the official opening ceremony back in May 2018.

Mostik

Cats as a ‘distraction’ from the ‘harsher realities’ of life in Crimea?? Those Russians are fiends! If only Ukraine had thought of that, we’d have been saved a lot of trouble.

Beyond Mostik, Cole can only produce one other example of the Kremlin’s supposed cat obsession – references to the unfortunate fate of Sergei Skripal’s cat, whom the British police left to die of dehydration and starvation after its owner was poisoned. Despite that, though, he concludes that, ‘cats are fast becoming Vladimir Putin’s political animals of choice.’

I’m assuming that Cole’s piece is meant to be slightly tongue in cheek. The problem is that one never knows nowadays. But definitely not joking is British journalist Sara Hurst, who drops the following bombshell in her latest article this week.

When I heard the news that AstraZeneca was going to work with Russia’s Gamaleya Centre to test combinations of the Oxford coronavirus vaccine and the Sputnik V vaccine, I was devastated. I felt betrayed by a prestigious scientific team that was supposed to be winning over the vaccine skeptics. … I have been in the Oxford trial, a joint project with AstraZeneca to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, since early June. I’ve had two doses of either the vaccine or the placebo. I was very enthusiastic to help develop a safe and effective vaccine. … But in response to the collaboration with the Russians, I have withdrawn from the trial. 

Come again, Sara. You what?? You quit the trial because the British researchers involved want to work with the Russians to produce a better vaccine? How does that make sense? Isn’t making a better vaccine something we should all want?

Not if it involves Russia, apparently. You see, Sara says that when it comes to vaccines, she ‘wanted to help create a genuine one’, and Russia’s Sputnik-V isn’t. It’s an ‘informational painkiller for the soul’, which she suspects doesn’t work. In any case, it’s wrong to take anything from Russia. There are ‘ethical issues of collaborating in any way with Putin’s murderous regime.’ ‘I am furious that instead of working to bring more of Putin’s killers to justice, some in the West apparently want to reward him,’ says Ms Hurst.

So she doesn’t like the Russian government. I’m fine with that. Many of the criticisms directed against it are entirely fair. But we’re talking about a major international health crisis here. The United Kingdom has just gone into full scale lockdown, and much of the rest of the world has blocked travellers from the UK from entering their countries. The UK needs an effective vaccine. Trying to block it is absurd.

Ms Hurst says that she doesn’t understand AstraZeneca’s decision to team up with the Russians. ‘I think they just see an opportunity to save money by perhaps giving people the Oxford vaccine after a dose of Sputnik. But I don’t really know what they’re up to,’ she says.

But she’s a journalist. It’s her job to check these things, and it’s not hard to find out the logic behind the British decision. Both the Oxford and Sputnik-V vaccines involve two injections, but the British found that if both doses were of equal strength, the vaccine was less effective. This could be because the first was in some way creating some sort of immunity to the second. And from this, researchers drew the conclusion that it might be better to use two different vectors for the two injections, i.e. first Oxford then Sputnik, or vice versa.

Will that work? I don’t know. Nor does AstraZeneca. But it’s worth a shot. Why not do some trials and see what happens? If it doesn’t help, there’s nothing lost. But if it has some positive results, then lives will be saved, and we can all return to normality a little earlier. What could possible be wrong with that?

AstraZeneca’s decision has nothing to do with ‘rewarding’ Putin. It’s a medical decision, pure and simple. And it makes a lot of sense. But no, we must not, says Sara Hurst, make the ‘mistake time and time again to trust Putin.’

I can’t remember how many times I’ve read that Russia is promoting anti-vaccination disinformation. But here we see how anti-vax propaganda is quite all right if it’s directed against Russia. As I said, it’s silly season indeed.

The Russian Brexit Plot That Wasn’t

Russian Disinformation. Russian Disinformation. Russian Disinformation. How many time have you heard that over the past four years?

But what about British disinformation?

Much of the current Russia paranoia began with the claims that Donald Trump was recruited by Russian intelligence years ago as a sleeper agent, and then given a leg-up into the presidency of the United States with the help of the GRU. The claims of ‘collusion’ were repeated over and over, and yet at the end of the day none of them could be substantiated. And where did it all start? In the now notorious dossier assembled by former British spook Christopher Steele.

Steele, it has now been revealed, got his information from a guy called Igor Danchenko. He in his turn got a lot of it from a former classmate, Olga Galkina, described as an alcoholic ‘disgruntled PR executive living in Cyprus’, and as such obviously a well-informed source with intimate knowledge of the Kremlin’s innermost secrets.

In short, the Steele dossier was a load of hokum, commissioned by a British Black PR operative and then fabricated by some random Russian émigrés with no access to anything of value. And yet, millions believed it.

And then, we have the story of Brexit. Ever since the 2016 referendum which resulted in Britain leaving the European Union, we have been repeatedly told that the victory of the Leave campaign was made possible by ‘Russian interference’. Most significantly, it was claimed that the Russian government illicitly funded the Leave campaign by funneling money through the campaign’s most significant financial backer, businessman Arron Banks.

Leading the charge against Russia and Banks was journalist Carole Cadwalladr of The Observer (as the Sunday version of The Guardian is known). ‘We know that the Russian government offered money to Arron Banks’, she said. ‘I am not even going to go into the lies that Arron Banks has told about his covert relationship with the Russian government’, she added, ‘I say he lied about his contact with the Russian government. Because he did.’

But it turns out that it was Cadwalladr who had a tricky relationship with the truth. Angered by her assertions, Arron Banks sued her for libel. Three weeks ago, she publicly backed down from one of her accusations. ‘On 22 Oct 2020,’ she said, ‘I tweeted that Arron had been found to have broken the law. I accept he has not. I regret making this false statement, which I have deleted. I undertake not to repeat it. I apologise to Arron for the upset and distress caused.’

This week Cadwalladr went further. The judge in the libel trial ruled that the meaning of her statement that Banks had lied about his relationship with the Russians was that he had lied about taking money from Russia, and that she had intended this as a statement of fact, not a call for further investigation. In the face of this judgement, Cadwalladr withdrew her ‘truth’ defence and has been ordered to pay Banks’ costs relating to this aspect of the case. In this way she in effect conceded that she was not willing to defend as fact the proposition that Russia financed Leave via Banks. While Cadwalladr continues to fight the case using a ‘public interest’ defence, the withdrawal of the truth argument is a dramatic concession.

The Banks story is not the only problematic aspect of Cadwalladr’s reporting. The journalist earned international plaudits and a prestigious Orwell prize for her report on how the British firm Cambridge Analytica supposedly used big data dredged up out of Facebook to help both the Leave campaign and Donald Trump win victories in 2016. This too had a Russian connection. In a 2018 article for The Observer Cadwalladr described how, ‘Aleksandr Kogan, the Cambridge University academic who orchestrated the harvesting of Facebook data, had previously unreported ties a Russian university. … Cambridge Analytica, the data firm he worked with … also attracted interest from a key Russian firm with links to the Kremlin.’

Others jumped on the Russia-Cambridge connection. ‘The Facebook data farmed by Cambridge Analytica was accessed from Russia’, claimed British MP Damien Collins, head of the House of Commons Select Committee for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport. In this capacity, he then published a report outlining allegations of Russian propaganda and meddling in British affairs, including unsubstantiated insinuations that Russian money had influenced the Brexit campaign via Mr Banks.

And yet, all this was false too. The United Kingdom’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) spent over two years investigating Cambridge Analytica, including its alleged role in the Brexit referendum, the 2016 US presidential election, and its supposed ties to Russian government influence operations. Having completed its investigation, the ICO reported that apart from a single Russian IP address in data connected to Cambridge Analytica, it had found no evidence of Russian involvement with the company. Moreover, it concluded that claims of the company’s enormous influence were ‘hype’, unjustified by the facts.

In other words, just like the Steele dossier, the whole story about Russia influencing the outcome of the Brexit referendum was made-up nonsense.

And yet, it has had an enormous influence. The allegations that Russia ‘interfered’ in Brexit have been repeated again and again – in parliamentary reports, newspaper articles, scholarly journals, books, social media, and so on. Despite their falsehood, they have enjoyed a spread and influence that Russian ‘meddlers’ could only dream of.

Will the peddlers of British disinformation repent? Will they now pen scores of articles admitting that they were wrong? Will they give evidence to parliament denouncing the scourge of false stories about Russia emanating from the British media and MPs?

Of course not. Ms Cadwalladr’s humiliation will get a few lines buried somewhere deep in some newspapers’ inner pages, and will then be forgotten. Meanwhile, the original claims will remain uncorrected in the many documents that repeat them, and the myth of Russian interference in Brexit will trundle on as a basis for denouncing the threat emanating from the East. The damage has been done. Ms Cadwalladr has been discredited, but someone else will soon be found to pick up the torch.

False News

I’m guessing that national newspapers have largely given up fact-checking their authors. It’s time consuming and costly, and it’s a competitive business and profit margins are slim. Who needs it? And so, our newspapers happily churn out story after story alleging Russian misinformation while themselves publishing blatant misinformation about the Russian Federation, its leaders, and its policies.

Take Canada’s own beloved National Post, excerpts from which are syndicated in local newspapers across the country, including our capital city’s Ottawa Citizen. The Post likes to publish the works of one Diane Francis, an American-born Canadian journalist whose political leanings can be surmised from the fact that she is said to be a ‘non-resident senior fellow in the Atlantic Council in Washington, DC.’ No doubt she’s done some great work through the years, to justify her many awards. But when it comes to Russia she has some serious problems getting her facts right.

This is clear from her latest gem, which appeared today with the headline ‘Putin is playing chess with the West – and he’s winning.’ Francis begins:

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has been very, very busy lately playing geopolitical chess, as America plays checkers.

Talk about cliché! Putin plays chess while we play checkers – how many times have I heard that one?! But I’m not interested in Francis’s lack of stylistic originality, so much as her tenuous grasp of reality. For this is what she has to say:

As the US election campaign dominated the headlines all summer and fall, millions more people were placed under the boot of Russia in Belarus and Nagorno-Karabakh … [In Belarus] Now Moscow controls its economy, media and police forces … [In Nagorno-Karabakh] Russian troops are nothing more than an occupying force executing a de facto takeover of territory.

Where does Francis get this stuff?? I’m damned if I know. How precisely does Russia now control the Belarusian economy?? Has Moscow bought out the Minsk Tractor Factory, the Belaruskali potash company, Belavia airlines, or anything else? If so, Diane Francis is apparently the only person in the world to know about it.

What about the other claims? Does Moscow now control the Belarusian media? A few weeks ago there was an allegation that after several hundred Belarusian TV workers walked off the job, a similar number of Russians were flown in to replace them. No solid evidence to back the allegation has ever been provided, and it seems somewhat improbable that Russian state TV has that many spare people lying around. As for Moscow controlling the Belarusian police, again that appears to be something entirely in Diane Francis’s imagination. Back in August, Russian president Vladimir Putin said that he could send police to Belarus if they were needed, but nothing ever came of it. The Belarusian police seem to be managing perfectly well on their own (as far as the authorities are concerned) and remain decidedly under the control of their own president, Alexander Lukashenko.

Which leaves us Nagorno-Karabakh. Russian peacekeepers there are ‘an occupying force executing a de facto takeover of territory’, Francis tells us, bringing ‘millions more under the boot of Russia’. I’m kind of wondering whose territory it is that she thinks Russia has taken over – Azerbaijan’s or Armenia’s?? I also wonder how she thinks that 1,960 soldiers, with no civilian administrators, can control a territory the size of Nagorno-Karabakh. The fact that they are there as a means of bringing peace to the region and preventing the inevitable bloodshed which would have resulted if the war had continued, passes Ms Francis by. So too does the fact that both the parties to the conflict – Azerbaijan and Armenia – consent to the Russians’ presence.

If that was all that this article got wrong, it would be bad enough, but sadly it isn’t. For Ms Francis tells us that,

Putin also expanded his presence in Syria, Libya and the Arctic, and will certainly do so in Afghanistan if Trump pulls American troops out.

I have to say that I’m not aware of a recent expansion of the Russian presence in Syria (the Arctic in question is in any case part of Russia – and as for Libya, it depends on whether you count the mercenaries of the Wagner Company). In reality, the Russian military footprint in Syria isn’t notably larger than it has been at any other point in the last five years. As for Russian troops storming into Afghanistan if the Americans leave, all I can say is that nothing is impossible but to say that this will ‘certainly’ happen is bizarre to say the least. One imagines that Russians have little appetite for a second Afghan war. Meanwhile, the Russian government has repeatedly made it clear that it would prefer if the Americans stayed in Afghanistan.

And then finally, Ms Francis comes out with this whopper of a falsehood. telling us that Russia’s ‘takeover’ of Nagorno-Karabakh

is similar to what the Kremlin did in Ukraine in 2014, when Russia invaded Crimea and killed tens of thousands of people.

Whoa, Whoa. Stop for a moment. Russia ‘killed tens of thousands of people’ in Crimea’??? Since when? The last time I looked into this, the death toll in the Russian annexation of Crimea was one person, not tens of thousands. But what’s the difference when there’s propaganda to be spread?

Methinks that Ms Francis is probably confusing the takeover of Crimea with the war in Donbass, but even if you accept that explanation for her curious statement, it is still far from the truth. So far about 13,000 people have been killed in Donbass. That’s bad, but it’s not ‘tens of thousands’. Ukrainian military deaths amount to 4,500. Rebel military deaths are somewhere in the same region, though possibly a bit higher. Of the 13,000 dead, it’s also reckoned that maybe around 3,500 are civilians, the vast mass of whom were on the rebel side of the frontline and so the victims of Ukrainian, not rebel or Russian, shelling. In other words, most of those killed in the war have been killed by the Ukrainian army. ‘Russia’ is not free of guilt, but ‘killed tens of thousands of people’ it most certainly has not.

Nor is Russia responsible, as Ms Francis claims late in her article, for the fact that ‘This fall, Ukraine’s anticorruption efforts came to a sudden halt’. Francis claims that this was ‘due to attacks by Russian-backed media outlets, politicians and oligarchs, as well as Russian-influenced judges.’ That would be Ukraine’s Constitutional Court. Where is the evidence that its judges are in the pay of the Kremlin?? Once again, I’m damned if I know. Ms Francis certainly isn’t telling.

Discussing such falsehoods before, I’ve noted that even though it’s one article it’s still worth pointing out its errors. Thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people read this junk. They take its claims as truth. But they’re not; they’re false, pure and simple. Publishing this stuff, without any effort to check its facts, is highly irresponsible, fanning fears and hatreds, and contributing to a worsening of international relations. Although it almost certainly won’t, the National Post, and other outlets like it, should consider this long and hard.

‘In recent weeks, Russia has stepped up its military and propaganda campaign around the world,’ Ms Francis tells us, warning also of the dangers of ‘Russian disinformation campaigns’. It strikes me that if she’s after propaganda and disinformation, she should start by looking a little closer to home.

Self-Deception

According to an article in The Guardian on Friday, in the United Kingdom, ‘A cross-party group of MPs is threatening to sue [Prime Minister] Boris Johnson unless he orders an independent investigation into Russian interference in recent UK elections and the 2016 Brexit vote.’ This follows accusations by a recent parliamentary report which claimed that the British government had not taken the threat of Russian disinformation and electoral interference properly. The Guardian notes:

The MPs say the government’s refusal to investigate Kremlin meddling is a breach of the European convention on human rights, which enshrines the right to free elections in protocol 1.

The group says it will take the prime minister to court if he fails to implement what it describes as essential steps to protect future elections. It has sent him a pre-action letter, to which Downing Street has two weeks to respond.

Claims that the UK has been the target of a ruthless campaign of Russian disinformation designed to sway the opinions of British voters have been a staple of political discourse ever since the Brexit referendum, but have become increasingly hysterical in the past 12 months or so. In the runup to last autumn’s general election, for instance, Politico ran an article with the ominous headline ‘Suspected Russian Disinformation Campaign ahead of UK Election’. Among members of what I call the ‘disinformation industry’, the idea that Russia was bound to try to fiddle with the election was widespread.

When no signs of such meddling could be found, the industry turned on the government, accusing it of failing to find the signs which everybody knew had to be there, if only the government bothered to look. ‘How Hostile Disinformation by Russia has Harmed the UK’, shouted a headline in the New Statesman, reflecting the general view of the British commentariat.

Well, it turns out that somebody now has taken a look at the election, and has found copious evidence of disinformation. But unfortunately, it turns out that it wasn’t the Russians who were responsible. It was Britain’s very own Conservative Party. As The Independent reports:

The Conservative Party used disinformation tactics with a ‘new level of impunity’ during last year’s general election, a report has found.

Researchers from King’s College London warned that the campaign had risked undermining public trust during the coronavirus pandemic.

Their report said Tories had ‘employed overt disinformation’ to secure votes, such as by altering a video of [Labour MP and now leader] Sir Keir Starmer and posing as a fact-checker on Twitter during a leader’s debate.

The King’s College team aren’t the only ones to have looked into the matter. The Independent tells us also that:

In separate research, the fact-checking organisation First Draft found that Labour, the Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats all published misleading advertising during the campaign.

But the Tories were ‘by far the most frequent’, with 88 per cent of their most shared online adverts between 1 and 4 December containing misleading information, compared to 6.7 per cent for Labour.

‘Liar, liar, pants on fire!’ one is tempted to shout the next time one sees Boris Johnson on TV. Of course, we all know that politicians tell porkies, but 88% seems to be taking economy with the truth a little far. It turns out that Conservative politicians (who now make up the British government) really can’t be trusted. The article in The Independent concludes,

The report called for more research to be done across multiple platforms to examine how false information spreads and takes root, calling claims that ‘Facebook, or bots, or the Russians are the core threat’ a ‘misdiagnosis’ of the problem.

So what is the problem? Where does disinformation come from? The article leaves little room for doubt:

The King’s College research said that while government policy had focused on social media as a source for disinformation, much of it was being ‘spread by domestic political actors’ and news outlets.

You don’t say? Who’d have thought it? There is a problem with disinformation in political life, but overwhelmingly the source of that disinformation is not Russia but domestic politicians and their helpers in the media. Unless, of course, this report itself is disinformation. Its allegations were ‘wild assertions’, said a Conservative Party spokesman. Well, he would, wouldn’t he?

Garbage in, Garbage out, again

I’ve complained before about the habit of the intelligence community of inviting evidence from a very narrow group of experts, occupying what can only be called an extreme position. Well, here we go again.

The long awaited report on the Russian ‘threat’ by the British parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee has finally come out. Having downloaded it, I immediately turned to the back page to see where the committee had got its information, on the principle of ‘garbage in, garbage out’. Having done so, I am afraid that I let out an expletive so loud that people from the other side of the house ran over to see what was wrong. For this is what I saw:

Oh, FFS. Applebaum, Browder, Donnelly, Lucas, and Steele. Really??? I’m assuming that most readers know these names, but just in case you don’t, it’s like they’ve pulled in all the most discredited, Russophobic ‘experts’ they can find, and ignored everybody else who has any sort of knowledge of the subject. This is not a representative sample of expert opinion about Russia.

I have no objection to one or two such people being summoned as witnesses, but when all you have is representatives of the most extreme wing of the Russia-watching community, some of whom, most notably Christopher Steele, have been thoroughly discredited, then what you are not getting is a balanced, all-round picture of what you are studying.

The report thanks these witnesses for the fact that ‘they provided us with an invaluable foundation for the classified evidence sessions’. In short, the five external witnesses mattered. The picture of Russia provided by these people is the ideological rock on which the rest of the report is built.

Such an extreme, one-sided set of external witnesses not only casts doubt on the value of the information provided to the committee, but also on the impartiality of the committee itself. It speaks to extreme lack of an open mind, as if experts were chosen because they conformed to a strong predisposition which the committee was not interested in challenging.

Intelligence work requires a willingness to consider multiple competing hypotheses. Looking at the list of ‘experts’ makes it clear that this committee has only been exposed to variations of one – ‘Russia is evil’, ‘Russia is out to get us’, ‘Russia is inherently aggressive and dictatorial’. This is no way to do intelligence work.

I’ll write something about the content of the report in my next post. But as I said, ‘garbage in, garbage out’.